The igloo that I inhabit is purely built out of ice. Blocks of ice stacked on top of one another until they create a dome that only raises about 3 feet off the ground. Before I assembled the dome, I had dug a pit that was about 3 feet deep into the frozen crust, under where I would eventually build my icy dome.
I had finished my igloo project, filling it with a deer and bear skin bed along with a small, vintage wood stove. Although the wood stove did little for me on the treeless coast of Greenland, I got creative and burned the oil collected from the fish I caught. I also brought with me a huge collection of Dura-logs which would sustain me for my stay in Greenland.
Every night I clung to the skins that entrapped my body in a cocoon of unsatisfactory temperatures, not cold enough to freeze but not warm enough to not question why in hell I would leave the Southern Californian bliss to come to the frozen tundra of despair.
But what made it all worth it was my constant adventure of navigating extreme winter conditions and the amazing art that lives and breathes in this magical place. My mornings consisted of sitting up and rotating 90 degrees to my heater where I boil coffee. The warm liquid slipped down my throat, heating my insides. My usual days consisted of taking an extremely long time to slip myself into the thick snow gear. Fur lined my hood and tickled my windburned cheeks as I crawled through the tunnel of ice that leads in and out of my igloo. From there I set off on the deserted icy planes, passing the occasional seal, with the intention of continuing my photography collection on the yearly migrating walruses.
The light filtering into the kitchen was the type of gray-white light that made her glow like a goddess. She was fastidiously picking through a bowl of cereal for the fruit, too focused to really care about the food. He came and placed a hand on her shoulder, stilling her arm, he tiptoed his fingers across her collarbone to her other shoulder and pulled her in, his bicep laying gently across the top of her t-shirt, his hand idly playing with the hem of her sleeve.
It was still chilly outside and he could see a mist drifting by the window, the grass looked like blades of pure emerald. Rich and dark, sharp in comparison to the fogged and blurred weather. He glanced down into the grass under the window, he could just see the tale of a garden snake, he had begun to think of it as his pet this last month, disappearing into the grass. He tapped her twice on the arm.
“Yeah, I’m just trying to find the right words,” she hummed.
As the weather had warmed she had grown colder and colder. The spread of tingling embers that always started in her ribs and shoulders, that radiated out when he was near her, faded into cool pinpricks, like rain or snow. The clock had ticked out the final seconds: tick, mine; tock, mine; tick, mi– and then it was gone, the ticking of the clock was gone. They were no longer tied together, something no longer felt right.
So she found a way to say goodbye.
He knew he shouldn’t. But he did.
He couldn’t help it. He had to look at her one last time, to look back on her like he always had, if only he could have walked the road in time, he could have let the music of what tied them together play as a reminder that she was there, she was real, she was his. But he had to stop — look.
Today she was in white — she never wore white — mourning. She was frozen mid-stride, a raindrop stopped just upon impact with her nose. He reached out and hugged her fiercely, angrily. Wildfire’s searing nails dragged down every nerve in his body. If only he hadn’t looked. If only — he stared at her eyes: cool, unwavering, timeless. He bent down to her —
He was back in the doorway his back to her, turning away. He tried to spin back, feeling like reality had finally slowed to meet him. He turned just in time to watch helplessly as she slipped away, pulled by an unseen force.
She placed the mug in front of him, she was warm just looking at him, it had been like that since the beginning. She could still remember all the steps to the dance that got them here: all the cups of coffee, all the late night fry runs.
She could still remember what he was wearing the first time they had brushed hands and it felt like a powerline had hit her. He had been in a pair of well fit light-wash jeans and a plain white t-shirt, next to her heavy boots his were stylish and sleek.
She could remember the first time she realized that just looking at him could make her blush. Just seconds ago, she had been staring out the window at him thinking she was going to burn up just knowing that he was hers.
As she sat down though, everything ran cold, her blush fell from her face faster than a spring thunderstorm. It felt as if all her blood had sunk into her feet, leaving the rest of her shivering and pale. She looked away from him, a cold finger running down her spine. Her heart jumped as if just shocked back to life, sluggish and uncomfortable.
In an attempt to warm herself, she brought her mug to her lips and the steam felt cool. Looking over at him didn’t warm her; that molten flame in her chest was guttering. She pressed her lips together as she gently placed the mug back onto the table with a small tap.
She could feel the breath in her chest jump and stumble a little, it wasn’t the normal hitch she got being near him. She lifted her mug again and let the warming steam brush its hands, like his, across her cheeks and nose. She took another sip of her coffee — bitter. She looked up at him — sweet.
She put the mug down again, warmth returning to her fingers, wondering what he would look like come rainy season in the spring. Would he wear that pair of soft, fit-as-if-tailored-specifically-for-him jeans with the tear in the knees? Would he wear that black sweatshirt she so desperately had wanted to steal, would he wear the sleek black jacket, that she loved on him, over it all?
She didn’t know how they were going to reach that point, but she knew they would. Her heart beat a little faster just thinking about it, but then it skipped like it hadn’t quite been beating in rhythm. She was still cold.
He murmured something, pulling her out of her thoughts, “Hmmm?” She responded.
He looked bashfully introspective. She watched him glance up again, with a warm glow in his face, following the trails of steam, a spaceship, into space, finding her eyes in the dark of space, staring at him cooly, like frozen stars.
“I love you,” he whispered across the planet, with oceans of coffee, beneath them.
She blushed gently, the flame in her ribcage sparked and gained strength slowly, an ember being coaxed back into full warmth.
“I love you too,” she whispered back. An umbrella offered against the snow.
She grinned at him then, content to just look at him as the clock ticked away the seconds somewhere within the cafe. She watched the easy fluidness of his movements as he leaned forward to grab his coffee mug. She watched and painted the angles of his arms as he took a drink, she followed his gaze as he looked past the awning.
He was staring at the pale sun just beginning to show its face through the cloud layer, the snow persisted in small delicate wisps that turned to messy slush on the pavement. She couldn’t help but wonder what went through his head, as he watched the sun slowly appear as if dabbed into existence on a pale, gray background.
She looked away from him then, and looked back into the window of the cafe toward the clock that was adding up their time. Adding up the time that he was hers, another second, another minute, another hour, all hers.
She didn’t even need to look at him head-on to know how the light shining through the clouds lay on his face, making his skin look soft and downy; to know how the bridge of his nose, the center and peaks of his lips, his chin, the very tips of his eyelashes, his gently sloped forehead, and his cheekbones, sloped up, were all glowing with snowy light, like painted lines of adoration.
She looked at him then, at those lines of Olympian light tracing his face like her fingertips. He was looking at her, though, out of the corner of his eye, not at the sun, not out at the world in front of him, he was looking at her.
She placed a steaming mug in front of him on the chipped mosaic table. He could see her hips, just at table height and just below the bottom of her large jacket. As she moved to slide into her seat across from him, her scarf drifted away from her body, offering a silvery black contrast to the white atmosphere.
He looked up, taking advantage of the frozen moment. Just behind her, outside of the awning, the snow hung suspended and the people braving the weather were stopped mid-step, mid-word. The steam curling out of his mug was frozen, cloudy glass.
Thinking back in this pocket of non-time, he could not quite remember the steps he had taken to reach this point. How exactly had he begun a conversation between the two of them, or had he not started the conversation at all?
He could remember they had met in a pocket of Indian Summer, he could remember what song had been playing, “It’s Never Over (Oh Orpheus)” — Arcade Fire, he could remember what she had been wearing, a pair of cuffed denim shorts and a burnt-orange t-shirt, a messy ponytail and a pair of well worn sneakers. He couldn’t remember, however, most of the rest of it.
He started at her feet. She was wearing heavy-soled boots, that despite their size did nothing to make her feet seem clownish. Her socks barely peaked from the stiff tops, a light grey knit line-break between the black boots and the black jeans, undoubtedly worn over another layer. He could see her blue-black sweater peeking out below the hem of her jacket, flaring out a little bit.
He continued upward, taking in the puffy jacket that dwarfed her, her hand – frozen midway to her pocket. He paused just a second longer to take in the fall of the jacket, the stolen movement of her arms, the way that her fingers curled around her own mug, the uneven crescent moons of her fingernails.
How had he gotten here? How had he gotten to the point where he could just stare at her and that would be enough? How had he moved from point A to point B? From seeing her serve coffee in a small hole-in-the-wall cafe, to not wanting to miss a single minutiae?
He looked over the folds of her scarf, piled high on her neck, he watched the shadows fall rightly. He followed the fuzz of the scarf upwards to her neck where a flush had crept up toward her face. He followed her jawline from right to left. Her lips —
She slid into her seat and her scarf fell back into place against her torso. The snow fell, again. All the frozen mid-steps became the movement of the next. He jumped a bit, a shiver riding up his spine. The milky glass above his mug had once again become nothing but vapor. She brought her mug to her lips and stared out from the awning. Now he could see her breathing, there was a small furrow between her brows.
With time now moving he could feel it, a warmth spreading from his heart outwards, a soft tingle from his eyes was working its way down to his toes, while sparkishly light fingers wound around his shoulder blades and rib cage, he would stop time again just to enjoy the sight of her, to will her to understand everything he felt.
“You are everything,” he whispered, testing how it flew from him into the corporeal world.
“Hmmm?” She hummed.
His words, like ducklings pushed from a nest, fell into the mugs between them, unheard and on their own, paddling away from him. She turned to look at him. He was stunned. Her attention was like a blow to his chest. Her eyes, it was all in her eyes and the small grin that dimpled the left side of her face.
How did he get here? How could so much of him rely on her? He looked down at his mug, at the dark coffee there, the light steam curling out of it. Like coffee and steam: warm, rich, and velvety, that was how they were. Coffee and steam, energy and complement, she was warmth in the cold.
He looked up again, “I love you.”
His words this time flew gently across the mosaic table to land in her mug as she brought it up to drink again, to hopefully bring the flush back to her face.
There was a certain amount of comfort to be had in overheating, he thought, it was a constant of summer and reminder that he was alive, he supposed.
Looking through the windowed roof of the day room with the comforting presence of her head on his stomach he couldn’t help but wonder at the heat, even indoors with the overhanging shade of the trees above the day room, it was stifling.
He felt her shift against his bottom rib on the left side, the small huff of breath that almost said: what to do? but then she settled back down and closed her eyes.
What to do indeed, heat washed over every thing in his head. It was sluggish and he watched the shadows on the panes of the roof sway with shadows from the trees that swayed lightly in the humid breeze. What to do?
They were wasting time he knew, but he couldn’t bring himself to move. He let his hand idly bush through her hair, burning up from the sunlight it had absorbed. He was glad she had stuck around, it was a good feeling.
When she was around he could pretend it didn’t feel like he was falling apart. Laying there on the floor in the heat it felt like the brittle glue holding him together had melted again into place, whole.
In the sun it was perfect, her hand rested lightly on his ribs, the knuckle of her middle finger skimming the patch of t-shirt over his heart. Time was passing by him at an alarming rate, it made his heart race — there wasn’t enough time to begin with, why was he squandering it?
A bell sounded from further in the house and his blood recoiled, the hand in her hair tensed and pulled at the strands, he could hear footsteps approaching. It had reached the hour, he should get back to work but his hand stayed in her hair.
He placed his other hand over her upturned one on his chest and closed his eyes, sunlight warming his eyelids.
It was oppressively hot but that was okay for him, it was okay for her and the footsteps receded almost as soon as they were heard.
“Strikingly beautiful,” he mumbled, while setting the crystal back on the heavy wooden desk. “And you’re sure it’s magical?”
I have to chuckle, distractedly, still staring at the emerald-and-gold-shimmering rock, that might as well be a huge, beautiful piece of beach glass.
“Yes, it definitely is magical,” I say, still notably distracted.
“Well… what does it do? Does it like… give you superpowers? Can it freeze time? Can you kill people with it??” he looks so excited, almost spilling his boiling hot coffee he is holding in his scarred hands all over the floor. The image of this huge, burly guy almost hyperventilating because of a little shiny crystal is straight up ridiculous, and I can’t help but laugh.
“It can tell lies from the truth,” I say, quietly, but he hears me. “It’s magical. I know it.”
He hardly looks hyper now, his face turns back to its suspicious nature that I adore so much, and I can tell that he doesn’t quite believe me.
“And how do you know that? I mean… what even… what?
“It had a note with it. In the box I found it in. And it said ‘I will illuminate any lie with the color of lies, lie to me twice and you will die.'”
“Okay. Now wait a second, you want me to believe you that this… chunk… a beautiful chunk, don’t get me wrong. But you’re saying it has magical powers?”
“And that it can tell lies from the truth?”
“And that it can kill people???”
He stares at me for a second, and all his fascination has now left his face completely.
“What the hell Jamie? Are you okay? Did you fall on your head or something? I swear to God…”
“No, Mason, I swear, it works. Just look.”
I pick up the crystal from the desk and put it in my hands, holding it in front of me like a raw egg.
“Okay, I am going to tell it a truth now, and it will recognize it. Just watch.”
I clear my throat, and raise my left eyebrow, like I always do when I am serious about something.
“Crystal. Listen. I’m going to tell you a truth now. Trump is a horrible president.”
The crystal, making no sound, starts glowing brightly and warm, like you would imagine the truth to look like. Mason is staring at it, in disbelief I think, then turns to me, looking a little more fascinated again.
“Okay, now, this is pretty impressive. And good choice on the truth, I gotta agree with the crystal here. But that doesn’t prove anything. Maybe there are batteries in here. I mean, how would this even work? Tell a lie. Show me that it actually works.”
“Well I haven’t tried lying to it yet. I don’t wanna die, you know?”
“You are not gonna die, Jamie. First of all, this is a rock.”
“Whatever. What I mean is that it won’t kill you. Besides, you don’t have to lie to it twice, you’ll be fine. Come on.”
“Why don’t you do it then?”
“Okay fine.” He takes the crystal out of my hands, carefully, as if he actually knew how precious it.
“Okay, crystal.” He looks around, making sure no one is watching him. “A lie. A lie. What is a lie?”
“Just say ‘I love Jamie’ or something.”
He looks down to his feet, a little too nervously. “No. Uh, something else.”
“Come on just say it if you can’t think of anything else. ”
He looks at me, a little unsure, then sighs. “Okay. Whatever. Crystal, I love Jamie.”
The crystal lights up again, green and warm. I stare at it, not knowing what to think. I is green. It is warm. It is true? “You love me.” I say, still staring at the brightly glowing crystal. “You love me.”
“No, no I don’t. It doesn’t work. It’s broken. That’s it. It’s broken.” He looks nervous. Of course. He loves me, I had no idea. “You love me.” What do I do? I need to tell him. I need to tell him now. I grab the crystal out of his hands, holding it tight. He is just staring at me, probably just as overwhelmed as me.
“Crystal,” I say, with trembling voice, “Crystal, I don’t love Mason.”
The crystal begins to glow again, but differently than before. It is red, dark, and cold blue inside. It’s a lie. It works. It knows. I love him. I always have. I had no idea he loved me too.
Before he can say anything, I grab his head and kiss him, the crystal pressed against our chests.
Everything feels green and golden and warm. It feels like truth, it feels like love.
Frank abruptly walked headlong into a grimy wall. His mind wishing for the beautiful side of the city had tried to take a right turn, but he was on a rounded road. He tapped his pocket again, for comfort, to remind himself of his dreams, to remind himself what the city had promised him, what the city had baited him with. He pulled the postcard out of his pocket. It was lined and greasy, the creases were chipped, he could barely make out the beauty he had once found so heart achingly perfect. He was too late. His toes had hit the steps of a factory.
Amelia slowly stepped out of the elevator. The sounds of the crowds reached her first, then the bright flashes of cameras. Her new world was set to be bright. She was designed for the city. The city was designed for her. She stepped out the doors, the cameras followed her, she turned to the monoliths, she understood: Harborside knew the world and the world knew Harborside, within Harborside was the world. She turned to the sea, there laid the cradle of life, status, money; it flooded into her the meaning of value, the true meaning: money.
As she walked the city doors opened to her. She was Amelia, the city was hers. She would never be lost to the crowd, the city would never bowl over her, time would not forget her, Frank was already fading.
She wandered the city all day, the crowd only grew around her, but as she strayed closer and closer to the borders of her postcard the crowds grew restless. Space seemed to shift. Where she walked she owned, the postcard was empty space with blank people, but where she walked new hope, new futures sprang up like daisies in her wake. But as she neared the last corner, the last wide boulevard, her daisies seemed to fight for sunlight. Her unique ownership was being pushed back by the ownership of the many, the workers no longer singular but one full moving entity, lost to the mindless grind of the crowd, the fingers became a hand.
She had reached the end of the immunization ring, the end of the filigree border on the postcard of Harborside and standing on the other side of the glass was Frank.
Before Amelia, who was the crux of the city, eyes of the future, was Frank, whose hands bled from his first shifts in the factories, who was beginning to smudge around the edges.
Before Frank, the disenchanted dreamer, a man of ideals and cities past, was Amelia, a small mechanical girl with holographic eyes and the entire modern world and future in her circuit board chest.
Amelia was city-made and city-grown. From where she lived the city was just a writhing mass, gridded like a chessboard, and full of monotony. Her circuits were overstimulated. She was surrounded by wires, cords, and progress. She was living modernity and on clear days she could almost feel like a part of the masses, she could almost feel like she interacted with them. Almost.
Frank wandered the city, cataloguing every face and type like a child seeing the world for the first time, walking a new language, but the people seemed to pass by him – no, look through him, like he didn’t matter. In truth, he began to think, do they really matter to me? But as he took another sharp corner, his mind clipped the edge of the building and then lodging was on his mind. He was in the right district given the signs hanging above doors and out from awnings, but he soon found he barely had enough money to stay the week out. How strange that what had had so much value previously in his life was so empty and useless in exchange here in Harborside.
Amelia was coming down from the clouds about to face the world for the first time, naive and one of the richest and rarest people in the city, but equally mysterious. Her mind had yet to grasp value; everything to her was bought and categorized away into an advanced filing system of uses.
The sky filtered into her windows, if she reached out, the clouds almost reached back, but who cared about clouds when she was going down to the ground.
From Amelia’s window far above Harborside its postcard appearance was breathtaking, heart-stopping from the aerial view, perfectly aligned like an OCD wet dream – but beyond the picture perfect Harborside was its dark truth, its fingers, its slums. Where the roads wended their way around makeshift homes, bodies being consumed by the cobbles of the city. The roads staggered like a drunk artist’s footsteps. The slums belied truth, the reality of the city for the majority. The true artists, the ultimate image of life, a slow burn out. The truth was, the city moved too quickly for anyone – even the top Moguls and Traders – to live contentedly, too fast for them to not eventually blend into the tapestry of time, of the city.
But while Amelia’s elevator sunk level by level, Frank’s feet were dragging him from job to job, ebbing closer and closer to that blight, the narrow streets, the moss, the dark sky, the forgotten, the true heart of the city. The cost of living had drained Frank, his week was up. Once a private person, he now broadcasted all he could, he needed all the help he could get. He dreamed of the past. When he was well off in the country, people tipped their hat to him, they knew his name, they cared. He dreamed of a city long past, just emerging from the harbor, crawling onto land like a new life form, full of opportunity and riches. His feet were carrying him further from the monoliths of global life. From the masses that thrived on standing out from the crowd, from the masses who had found what they sought, or at least the veneer of what they dreamed.
Below Amelia and beyond the borders of her glass and marble version of the city, the eyes of the workers were cast in coal and ash. Those of the slums were fading out of being, becoming just blurs, wisps of subconscious, hollow. They were being emptied of dreams, emptied of light, emptied of value. They looked – with light-burned, cataracted eyes, weary and broken from too many hours in front of a forge – toward the city they had dreamed of, the one they believed in, the one they were now part of, the one now using them as a whetstone to hone itself upon. They looked upon a city alien and yet familiar; one that shared the same name, shared a people, but was separated by a wall of prosperity, an insurmountable barrier of capital value.
Rising above Frank was the very tangible feeling of success and dreams realized. Above him – wrapped in their own private worlds, curtained off from each other – lay the world of Traders and Merchants and Moguls. There was no lost space, everything was worked to perfection, commodified and able to be owned. People had become slaves to their Ikea nesting instinct, they simply filled the space given, even the ultimate consumers did not own their space. The streets were wide and clear, everything at a crisp ironed angle, a city of well pressed pants. Those who walked them did not know each other beyond image: a Trader by the scale lapel pin, an Artist by the garish socks, an Economist by the gloves, a Mogul by the hat. On the great rising monoliths movies and media played, any new information came from those gargantuan marble monoliths. The world beyond Harborside was found in those rising towers of media.
But in the slums – from the roofs of their squat and makeshift shanties – the workers could just glimpse the edges of media. Their world was full of cracked screens and secondhand news. People were cramped, the heartbeat of one encroached on the next. The global world had all but disappeared to them, where they had come from was being wrung from them as they became just another road stone in the city. The cultural identities they had brought with them, had created neighborhoods around, had found their first jobs with were bleeding away. They were becoming the masses of the city, overwhelmed by the need for money, the vast cost of living had ensnared them, had separated them and pinned them by the wings.
But the global world existed only in the harbor with the monoliths of media, with the bustle of trade, it was rich and thriving in the harbor. Money was not lacking, it seemed as if the less work one did the more money filled their coffers.
Frank was well off for a country boy, so when he docked in the sand of the fish market – the only place his little decrepit rented dinghy could -he was sure he could do anything he could possibly hope for. As he jumped from the boat he sunk to the knee into rotting, bloated, sun-blistered fish waste. His nose crinkled, What a welcome. He trudged upward into the city, tapping his breast pocket with a light rhythm. As he reached the paving stones his tapping ceased, he could not crane his head far enough, the city just kept going. The longer he stared the more his past months at sea ebbed away with the tide; his past was being drowned out by the sounds, the smells, and the people. The city was made of individuals from the ground, Frank was just another one of them, just another in a sea of people striving to flourish as themselves, he was just dressed a little more shabbily, a little more wide eyed, a little more idealistic, he was just a little bit poorer, he was just woefully unprepared. So he set out to wander the city, to find himself, or lose himself.
It was dingy as hell, not recognizable as the city everyone saw in the postcards: moss and algae crept down the walls; the side streets were lined with open sewers; the factories ran all hours of the day, belching out waste and haze. Soot streaked down the faces of the workers whose hands were cracked and brown with exposure. What little they had they called home, whether roof or coat, they took what they could. They struggled through narrow congested streets, seemingly stuck in the past — a bygone era, that had long since been passed by the rest of the city — an open sore without medicine.
On these congested streets lived all manner of discard: tech no longer current, factory waste, dreams of fame and fortune, the relics of the country people once left, heirlooms of cultures long swallowed. But as the streets turned oceanside they widened and lightened, the haze of smog dropping away the closer one moved to the harbor, the mecca of trade, the jewel of the city, the picture perfect postcard. Harborside was a world of glass and gold that rose high enough that those with bloodshot eyes and wasted dreams believed that maybe it reached heaven.
The city of Harborside was rich, modern, urban, cultured, and only surface deep. Every man, woman, and child that lived in the skyward reaching world was a dreamer, a planner, a story. Their streets were lined with rare plants and their roads paved with exotic shell. Every home was its own, sitting pretty at the height of progress. They would want for nothing and everything.
Such severance was there in the city of Harborside that it was as if a blight, a disease, had been stretching out from the landward outskirts of the city but had abruptly hit a vaccine three quarters of the way toward the harbor. It was as if an immunization had been injected into the sea and had spread to the seafront but had been content to protect the few.
Life was bobbing at a sea-sickening rate as Frank finally found the city. He had taken every form of transport available to him: car, bus, train, plane, his own two aching feet, bicycle, and finally boat. As the city rose over the bow of the leaky, decades-old fishing boat, the tug behind his gut seemed to loosen. The folded postcard in his breast pocket was a molten brand of hope and childlike optimism on his heart.
Life had ground to an overly warm stagnate existence for Amelia. Trapped above the cloud level – in a glass box – Amelia had the entire world at her fingertips. She was at the height of modern technology, she was as mapped out as the best planned city. There was no one like her, there never had been another like her, nor would there ever be one like her. She was a road map. She was not her own. She was caught, ensnared. Made and unmade.